It’s amazing to watch farmers step out of their comfort zone and reach out to their elected officials. For the past month, farmers have headed to their state capitals and Washington to talk about agriculture policy. Sometimes, it goes very well and farmers are able to get their officials to sign onto their viewpoint. Others are not as successful.
At the Maryland & Virginia Cooperative Banquet, Andrew Jamison, the 2013 Young Cooperator of the Year, spoke about meeting his congressman in Washington. The legislative request did not go well, as the congressman had already decided against the proposal. Jamison’s children did help to break the ice when the congressman posed for a picture with the family.
And, that is how grass-roots lobbying goes. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The key is to keep trying. At the cattlemen’s banquet last weekend, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican from Centre County, Pa., said if farmers are not at the table talking about what they need, “they will be on the menu.”
Farmers might feel uncomfortable dressing up and heading to the hill, but trying is important. But it does not have to stop there. Connecting at home can be just as valuable.
Chris Szkutak, the gatekeeper for the Massachusetts State Grange, said some of the most important relationships he has built as the Grange’s legislative director is at the home office with the legislator's staff. Staff members can be just as powerful as the legislator. They usually put in the initial legwork on an idea and have more in-depth knowledge on a particular topic. And Szkutak’s elected assemblyman does make a point that if one of his constituents makes an appointment at the local office with staff, he will also visit to hear about the local concerns.
Here in the newsroom, we know there are plenty of issues on farmers’ minds. Food safety reform, Farm Bill program implementation, farm profitability and farm transition, just to name a few. Many answers might start within the capital beltway, but some of the best answers come from the farm.
While not every farmer-generated idea succeeds, those grass-roots points sometimes turn into legislation and ultimately law, benefiting agriculture.
-- Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, special sections editor